“Restrepo” is the real-life war movie.
It’s so raw and spontaneous that we can’t help but be moved by
witnessing what it’s really like to be an American soldier in
The action takes place between 2007-8, when Second Platoon, Battle
Company, 173rd Airborne Brigade, was deployed to the
, high in the mountains of rural
. As soon as they arrive, they
are under fire, but we never see the enemy.
We just hear the bullets, see the tracers, and feel the explosions.
The enemy hits suddenly, fights furiously, and then retreats
stealthily. All our little
platoon can do, at first, is try to return the fire, in a cacophony of
panicked communications, cursing and yelling, orders given and received,
requests for air support screamed into headsets, and, after the chaos, upon
finding a fallen comrade, the anguished sobbing of uncontrollable grief.
Captain Keaney decides to take the initiative, and to establish a
forward outpost, which they name Restrepo, after one of their buddies who was
killed the first day. The Captain
assures his men that they’re ahead of their predecessors, they took
definitive action, and they are on the offensive.
But any patrol on a goat-trail mountain path can be ambushed at any
time. The local populace frankly
explains that if they cooperate, the Taliban will kill them.
(This effectively masks their true loyalties, and allows them to
negotiate without appearing to take sides.)
Captain Keaney appears to be better at military leadership than he is
at diplomacy with the local elders. In
the weekly “shura,” where the locals are represented by old men with
henna-dyed beards, he alternately blizzards them with propaganda (“we’re
going to bring peace and prosperity to your land, and you’re going to
participate in the bounty that we bring”) and stonewalls their requests.
In once instance, it seems there was a cow that was trapped in a barbed
wire fence, and after discovering it, the
soldiers gratefully “put it out of its misery” and had it for dinner.
The town elders want reimbursement, to the tune of $500 cash, but that
idea is nixed by high command, and instead the elders are told they’ll have
to be content with an equivalent amount of rice and grain.
They say they’d rather have the money.
So much for dabbling in indigenous politics.
After a period of huddling behind their perch on the high ground, the
15-man (no female soldiers are evident here) platoon is ordered to participate
in Operation Rock Avalanche, which takes the fighting to the local village,
where the insurgents are surely hiding out, and, predictably, the soldiers
find that they’re charging into households full of old men, women, and
children, and in some cases they’ve inadvertently wounded some civilians.
Of course, it’s impossible to tell, when you’re on the receiving
end of blazing weaponry, who’s doing the actual firing when the enemy
isn’t wearing any identifiable uniform.
This is similar to the agonizing dynamics of the long, horrible
, where the American soldiers operate under tremendous pressure because
they’re oftentimes “fighting blind.”
And the enemy, of course, is not.
The men don’t appear to have the drug and alcohol abuse problems so
prevalently reported in
. But afterwards, in their
post-deployment commentaries that intersperse the live action hand-helds,
it’s obvious that the images and memories are still seared into their
consciousness and conscience. There
are some things, they say, that still give them nightmares, and that they fear
they’ll never get over.
Worst of all, the strategic aftermath is that soon after the
platoon’s recall (back to
), and after suffering casualties that truly affected the morale of the men,
the Americans simply withdrew from the Valley, and left it to the Taliban.
It was considered strategically insignificant.
Tell that to the families of the soldiers who died defending it.
“Restrepo” is so stark and so realistic that you may decide you’d
rather imagine what it must be like than see for yourself.
Genteel people will stay away in droves from this film, because it’s
something we just don’t like to think about.
But it’s a strong, stark testimony to the sweating, swearing,
courageous, macho, tattooed, gun-toting, anonymous young men who fight for
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, Grace